Rich Aucoin Synthetic

Photo by Riley Smith

The new Rich Aucoin album promises “more synths than any other in recorded history”

Today, the Halifax artist and renowned showman drops the first in a four-part series of intensely synth-heavy albums, Synthetic.

Rich Aucoin wants to invite you to play synths on his next album. Make that Part 2 of a series of albums, dubbed Synthetic, that will be released in four parts for the next two years. 

“If you are reading this and you’d like to join, send me a message on social media, and I’ll add you to the growing list,” Aucoin says over Zoom — in a room covered in vines and other plants within his Halifax apartment. “It’s kind of like my first album, when I was going across the country and recorded with like 500 people, except this time, I just have a spreadsheet of potential synth-nerds and collaborators.”

No stranger to monumental releases that change the whole formula of recording, touring and collaborating, Aucoin’s first part of Synthetic: Season 1 features himself playing 37 different synthesizers, some with their very own place in musical history, like the Supertramp-owned Elka Rhapsody 610 String Machine. 

The idea for Synthetic began around 10 years ago at the National Music Centre (NMC) in Calgary (then called CANTOS) after Aucoin just missed his opportunity to record in the famous keyboard museum. 

“I was in Calgary on tour, recording the first album, and I was on like MySpace with the sound engineer and booking some time almost worked, but he had to do something else last-minute,” Aucoin says. “That’s the thing with all these huge projects: it can be pretty spotanteous.”

He might have missed his opportunity to record then, but in 2020 he basically had free rein to record in the NMC’s keyboard museum, home to one of the world’s most extensive collections of synthesizers. He quickly realized he had enough material for some 40 songs, so after a bit of experimenting, he decided it would be a quadruple album. 

“I usually set rules for myself with albums, and for this one it was simply: use all synths,” he laughs. 

There are also next to no vocals on Synthetic, save for some samples and a bit of ‘gibberish’ singing on one track, “456.”

“I decided I wanted it to be instrumental after I couldn’t put lyrics to the songs,” Aucoin says. “I think I was a little burnt out from lyrics after doing the United States album, which was like super short instrumental parts and tons of singing.”

Synthetic, out Oct. 19

Having next to no lyrics left space for experimentation, the kind of vibe a guy like Aucoin thrives on. Some songs had very deliberate planning, like “Space Western,” which is a fusion of Ennio Morricone and John Carpenter. Others were created through simultaneous layering with no concept at all, like “Tonto.”

“It was a lot of playing synths for like four or five hours, going home and seeing if I could edit it into something. Sometimes the specific synth influenced the vibe I was going for,” Aucoin says.

Synthetic could not be coming at a better time in the music world, as genres like synth wave and dark wave are no longer reserved to niche obscure music groups, and names like Brian Eno are even referenced in modern pop music. It could be deemed strategic to ride this wave by releasing a synth-only album that jumps from different electronic-micro genres, but Aucoin had no real plan. 

“I didn’t calculate the level of popularity, and to be honest, I hadn’t really dived into synthwave before releasing the first few tracks on the album,” he says. “But I love Wendy Carlos, Tomita and Air. Actually Air’s Moon Safari was a huge album for me growing up. So yeah, I went for an instrumental synth album because that’s what 13-year-old Rich would like.” ■

For more on Rich Aucoin, please visit his Bandcamp.

For more music coverage, please visit the Music section.